Star Wars: Kandosii'tal

Operation Deathmarch, Part V

0758 Lannik time

Imperial Purge Trooper factory, Lannik

6 months BBY

"Get down!"

The rebel commandos complied as a massive mechanical body landed on a massive boulder, sending a large chunk of rock rolling toward the team. Alen's Bryar pistol fired several times, the bolts easily absorbed by the armor of the nearest droid.

"Yeah," Alen breathed, "…complicated…I can see it." He turned to the rest of the team. "Fall back!" No time for holding back. His blaster met its holster as his lightsaber flashed to life, the Jedi standing between the imposing, ten-foot figure and his comrades.

It dashed forward one massive step, its energy blade swinging toward him hard. Alen sidestepped rapidly, his own sword redirecting the incoming strike downward as he tried to counter, the droid's energy shield taking his blow and repelling it. The Jedi called on the Force and leapt over its head, spinning midair to land in a crouch and drive a hard stab into one of its knee joints. The blade went in with some effort, a surprise to Alen, and the trooper fell to its crippled knee, but turned its torso all the same, slashing its blade at his head. His lightsaber deactivated just in time for him to roll away, regaining his footing and running behind cover, another slash from the droid cutting a rock in its way to burning shreds.

An explosion rocked the ground, and a furious yell came from above as Alen gave out a sigh and kept running.

"Come on, di'kute! I don't have all day!"

Despite his angry, almost bored façade, Xel was worried. These things were repelling explosions, blaster fire, and even lightsaber strikes, and that was just the armor, not to mention either the shield or energy blade. And there were six of them. His lightsaber reignited as two turned to face him, raising right arms and shields as they held him back from getting to Alen. Xel leapt above another as it slashed at him from behind, coming down at its back with a falling vertical strike that cut a burning hole through its back armor and jump jets. The skeleton underneath was blackened and slightly charred, but held up.

Caden's teeth gritted as he withdrew behind another rock, ducking out of the way of a vengeful slash from the droid he'd just assaulted and launching a wrist rocket into its face. The Purge Trooper stumbled backward as a flurry of interlocking blaster fire peppered its armor, the rest of the rebels finally ending their retreat and beginning a counterattack. Its relatively small energy shield raised, covering its central and most important bits, the rest of its armor deflecting or absorbing most of the stray shots. Only a few bore holes in its chassis, but the bolts that impacted at joints seemed to have more impact and even caused it to freeze up for a few seconds.

Xel's eyes widened. The joints. He charged at the closest Trooper currently under assault, getting its attention with a few well-placed blaster shots to its optics and head. The droid turned to him and raised its right arm, curling it at the elbow and squaring its shoulders a moment before a trio of missiles streaked from its right shoulder. Caden blinked as he jetpacked into the air, cursing under his breath when the missiles started tracking him. Heat-seekers. Lovely. His flight path took him closer to the ground, arcing past a Purge Trooper currently attacking his brother and firing at its unprotected back.

"Fierfek!" Ijul yelled over comms. "These things are unstoppable!"

"Nonsense," Eran insisted. "Nothing is unstoppable. Everything has a weakness. We just need to find it."

"I intend to," Xel growled into his comm., eyes snapping back to glance at the rapidly approaching missiles. Come on, Xel, think! He arced back toward the battle and saw three of the six Purge Troopers starting to cluster up in one area, combining their armor and shields against the withering fire of a dozen rebel commandos. Droids tend to give off more heat than organics by nature of their processes, and in this climate-controlled armor… A smirk came to his face as he descended again, arcing and angling his body to go between the droids. He shot through the relatively narrow gap, cutting the jets and letting his momentum carry him forward.

As he rolled on impact with the ground and used his momentum to hit the ground running, the three missiles locked onto the Purge Troopers and split, detonating on impact with their respective chasses and knocking them off-balance.

"Use detonators!" Eran yelled.

"Target their joints!" Xel added as he ran toward the cluster.

One of them turned in his direction and fired off another salvo of missiles, the shot missing when he juked around it at the last second and shot a wrist rocket toward its neck. The Trooper raised its energy shield and smacked the missile away, spinning and slashing with its blade as Xel dropped onto his shins, sliding under the strike. Caden's lightsaber cut upward as he slid between its legs, slashing a shallow line through its hip armor and rolling as his upper body pitched forward, then spinning to face his enemy and launching another rocket at its neck. The rear neck servo was severely damaged, causing the droid to seize for a few moments as Xel closed the distance.

The Mando leapt onto its back and raised his lightsaber when the droid's right hand grabbed him by the arm, throwing his strike off and attempting to throw him to the ground. Xel's left crushgaunt wrapped around its shoulder-mounted missile launcher, keeping him steady as he put Force into his right arm's resistance. His legs braced against the droid's grasping arm and pushed back, the Trooper's grip slackening bit by bit as it widened under the force of his struggle. It released him, allowing him to dash backward and land on its left shoulder in a crouch. His right hand reaching for a handhold on its head, his left grabbed his dropped lightsaber and ignited it, slashing at the neck joint repeatedly and cutting most of the way through.

The Purge Trooper began sputtering and jolting repeatedly, its systems shorting out at the sudden loss of processing power. One last swing beheaded the mechanical monstrosity, its helm hitting the ground with a thud a moment before the rest of its body followed. A cheer rose from the rebels who maintained their firing pattern on the other two before half of them were knocked to the ground by the concussion from a narrowly dodged missile salvo. The Troopers jetted briefly into the air and landed next to three of them, one putting its arm between its head and a pistol burst from one prone soldier before bashing him with its energy shield.

The soldier shrieked as the shield bathed him in pure energy, the sheer voltage overloading his nervous system and leaving him little more than a charred corpse. Eyes widening at their comrade's fate, the other two scrambled to their feet and ran for it only to be trampled by the second Trooper, the snaps of their ribs heard even at Xel's distance.

"No!" he roared in anger, jetpacking toward one at maximum velocity and channeling Force into his fall as he planted both feet on its chest, knocking it to the ground and slashing at its neck with his right hand as his left fired at the other repeatedly.

The Purge Trooper he'd mounted grabbed him in both hands and unceremoniously dumped him on the ground back-first. Xel grunted at the impact but bounced back from it, using the Force to launch himself into the air and out of range of its slash. His lightsaber flashed as he charged back in, his blows deflecting off its shield and blade as he dueled the eight-foot monstrosity. Glancing to his right, he fired off a wrist rocket at the trampling Trooper, knocking it off-balance and drawing its attention away from the crippled rebels. It looked dead at him and raised its right arm in the same bent motion that fired off missiles, but instead revealing its shoulder-mounted weapon to be a rotary cannon.

Blue plasma shot from the weapon at an extremely rapid rate, causing Xel to dash away from his close-range opponent and roll several times, deflecting the rounds intermittently and sending a few back into their source. When he leapt behind a rock for cover, a missile strike from the other Trooper shattered his cover into fairly large pieces, the explosion knocking him flat onto his faceplate. Taking a rapid look around him, Xel snarled determinedly and stretched out to the Force with his anger. A hailstorm of large rocks pelted the auto-firing Trooper, many of the smaller bits jamming into its joints and cables and a fair few impacting and damaging its weapon.

Xel cocked his head. Interesting. So their shoulder weapons aren't as durable as the rest of them. Sure enough, when the Purge Trooper again tried to fire, the rotary cannon had been either jammed or damaged beyond use. Either one was good enough for him. Xel put a finger to his helmet. "All units, be advised. Target their shoulder weapons and you can take out their long-range capabilities."

"Roger," a few rough voices chorused.

Xel dashed past both Troopers, ducking under a slash from one and sprinting over to the crippled soldiers. A quick scan in the Force confirmed they were still alive…barely. One was slung over his shoulder and the other dragged by his arms as Xel moved away from their mechanized attackers as fast as possible. A sizzling ignition from behind caused him to mentally facepalm. Forgot to take out the missile launcher. He dropped them both instantly, jetpacking into the air and drawing off the heat-seeker before arcing back toward his opponent and free-falling behind it to land in a roll. It spun to face him, bringing down a powerful blade strike as he sidestepped and rushed toward it, dashing in close and practically hugging its leg as the missiles slammed into its back.

The Trooper pitched forward, and Xel ducked behind it, leaping onto its back to slash its launcher in two before jetting back to the unconscious rebels and carrying them behind Alen's defensive line. The Jedi gave them a concerned glance before refocusing on the battle at hand, firing his Bryar repeatedly into joints at the shoulders and neck of the approaching battle droids.

"How bad?" Alen asked as Linn looked them over.

Among her talents for numbers and other such records, the girl also had also gotten some medical training from one of her now-dead squad members and was putting it to good use among the three injured rebels brought to relative safety. She shook her head.

"Serious, but not critical. No internal bleeding, just compounded fractures. Other than a few pain stims, there's nothing I can do for them here."

"Roger," the Jedi answered with a nod, blaster fire punctuating his words. "Do what you can."

Xel scowled at the enemy force, drawing his father's Blackjack off his jetpack and opening up on the enemy as he checked the time. 0807 hours. He exchanged a look with Alen, the latter's nod confirming it. Xel pulled a holocommunicator off his belt and crouched down, activating a line to Tobin's frequency. His frazzled image appeared a few moments later.

"Tobin here."

"This is Caden. We've found the facility and its purpose, and if I'm guessing right, we're currently dealing with the prototypes."

The man's eyebrows furrowed in alarm at Xel's tone. "What exactly does that mean?"

"Battle droids, sir. Highly advanced battle droids built for taking on Force-users, if I had to guess."

Tobin's eyes widened. "You're kidding…no of course not." He rubbed his forehead. "Fierfek. This was unexpected. How many are you up against right now?"

"Six, and in the ten minutes we've been fighting, we've only managed to bring down one. Our squads have already sustained four casualties, and that number's just gonna rise if we don't get some backup."

The commander nodded. "Understood. Reinforcements are twenty minutes out. Sorry, but things are kriffing hectic here. That's as soon as I can get you help."

Xel's teeth gritted, but he nodded and closed the channel before turning to Alen. "Vod, this is getting us nowhere. Once the Imperials get their osik together, they're gonna send a swarm of these things out here. If we don't stop production permanently, they're gonna wipe us out."

"What exactly are you suggesting?"

"You stick to the plan. Take Ijul, Treyvan, and Eran inside, along with one or two commandos. Find the hub, control center, whatever, and put an end to it. Forcefully."

"That won't take care of the ones already out here."

Xel looked off at the Purge Troopers in the distance and reached for his belt, the hardcase at his right opening and dropping a beskar cylinder into his hand as his left hand reached for the same spot on the opposite side.

Alen just stared for a few moments as two blazing beams of light, blue and green, ignited before his eyes.

"Leave that to me," Xel growled malevolently.

Li-am couldn't help but let out a long, staggered breath at his brother's audacity. "All right then. En, Ijul, Sarge!"

The three in question snapped their attention to him.

"Take two of the best fighters you've got and form up on me! We're taking that factory!"

"Sir!" they answered in unison.

Alen turned his attention back to Xel when the Mando climbed onto a large boulder that served as cover, his glowing sabers drawing the attention of every advancing robot. "Xel!"

The Mando barely turned his head.

"Good luck." He could sense Xel smirked behind his helmet.

"I don't need luck. I have the Force."

Alen smiled and nodded to his team as Xel charged toward the enemy, yelling furiously.

"For Mandalore!" Xel roared as he leapt into the air and fell with both blades, the glowing shafts meeting a blade and shield. He bounced off and backflipped, landing solidly and dashing between the Trooper's legs to slash at the knees. Spinning around, he swung both blades in one direction, the combined power of his lightsaber and Telia's severing the droid's right leg at the knee and dumping it on its side. The Trooper swung its left arm down toward him, and he deflected the strike with one sword while the other slashed at the blade's emitter, cutting it from the arm and rendering it useless.

A leap brought him to its head, which was attacked from both sides with crossing slashes, the appendage severed with one rage-driven maneuver. A trio of missiles smacked into the ground next to him, and Xel pitched over, deactivating his sabers and falling into a roll as he recovered, then reignited them and started sprinting again. Another missile headed in his direction, and he adeptly sidestepped it before throwing his mother's saber at the offender, the speed and force with which it hit severing its launcher, then returning to his hand a few moments later.

With a furious yell, he leapt forward in a double stab, the blades punching directly into the Trooper's chest, much to his surprise. He tore them both out and deflected a blade strike and shield bash before leaping backward when the two weapons crossed where his body had just been. Every Purge Trooper in their formation had started to focus on him and converge on his position, leaving their backs open to blaster fire from every remaining rebel.

"Come on, mir'osike!" He crossed the blades threateningly. "Come and see how a true warrior fights."

Alen's lightsaber flashed in a blur of blue light as he deflected and reflected blaster bolts headed for him and his teammates. The blade cut through one stormtrooper after the next as they stormed the complex, most, if not all, of the Imperial soldiers having never seen a Jedi before. It gave him quite the psychological edge. Their professional calm was completely disrupted, something he hadn't noticed in the stormtroopers Vader had brought with him to Obroa-skai. He assumed that was because they were from his personal legion, the 501st, a special division famed for killing Jedi.

Regardless, Alen intended to capitalize on his advantage, and so charged straight toward their firing line, a wide Force Push blowing many of them onto their backs. Eran and the others hosed down the prone troopers while he got to work cutting through a locked door. The metal plate fell to the floor a few moments later, its edges glowing with heat as the rebels made their way further inside. The hallways that followed had progressively decreasing guard density, as if they never expected the enemy to get that far inside. They were wrong.

"Master Jedi," En said five minutes after their insertion.

Alen once again winced at the title, then turned to him and took a good look at what had caught his attention.

"This is a power junction for the AA cannons we saw up top. We disable a few of these, and those guns go goodbye."

The Jedi's blue eyes widened. "Which means we can call Iola for air support. She's much closer than Commander Tobin's reinforcements, and one good salvo from the Kandosii'tal would reduce those droids outside to scrap metal."

"Exactly my thought."

"Do whatever you have to. We'll keep you covered."

Xel laughed darkly as he cut the blade arm off another Purge Trooper, then used the Force to ram its ignited blade and the attached appendage into its head. A burst of plasma fire cut across his chestplate, sending him staggering as he tried to outrun the incoming fire. The Force giving him extra speed, he launched a rocket at the attacking droid and jetpacked around its next salvo. The rocket struck its outstretched left arm, its firing pattern keeping up as Xel descended. The Trooper caught his leg despite his best efforts, but a Force Push to its face knocked it off-balance long enough for him to find the offending wrist's weak spot and cut through the hand's primary servo.

His boots hit the ground a moment later, and both blades ignited as he leapt straight upward, the lightsabers cutting a single wide line through its front, then a mirrored line through its back as he fell on its other side. The bisected automaton fell to the ground even as another charged shoulder-first into Xel. The youth groaned as he hit the deck, then rolled sideways to avoid a falling boot and slashed at its ankle. Another Trooper off in the distance cut a burning line through a rebel commando that got too close, his scream filling the air and filling Xel with even more rage.

A blunt strike from his opponent sent him pitching over, and a hard swing with its energy blade sent Telia's lightsaber flying out of his hand. It planted a kick on his chest, and his Force Shield shattered under the strain as he kept exhausting his strength. His legs buckled when he tried to stand, the combination of adrenaline, pain, broken bones, and exhaustion nearly decking him. No…no! he thought furiously.

"I'm not done yet!" he roared at the unfeeling droid.

His declaration fell on deaf audio receptors as it brought its blade down hard, knocking Xel's lightsaber from his hand, then kicking him back again. When his jetpack hit the ground, Caden felt a wave of exhaustion and pain overtake him. I haven't felt this horrible since I took on Vader. He craned his neck and stared at the helmet of the approaching battle droid. Oh right. His lips curled into a hateful snarl as he slowly rose to a crouch, the droid drawing within striking distance and bringing both arms down hard.

"That's enough!"

PT-37's digital brain stalled briefly as it considered the situation in front of it. Every logic processor in its head dictated that this was impossible. No organic, however strong, could stand up to its sheer brute force when its entire weight was put behind a strike. It then ran a split-second diagnostic of its optic sensors to check for malfunctions. When the test turned up negative, it checked its servo power and connections for damage. Minor scuffs were all that turned up, but not even that would allow this. It then calculated the odds that its internal diagnostics themselves were malfunctioning to be 2520 to 1. The logic processors briefly glitched before reconfiguring and adjusting to the new parameters.

Its optics were not malfunctioning, and neither were its arms. This meant only one thing. Somehow, this armored organic was matching it for sheer brute strength. Not only that, but PT's arms were actually starting to rise as he got to his feet. It hadn't let up in the strength of its arms, but the saber-wielding human was actually beginning to stand. Impossible, the droid thought, logic processors glitching again. What happened next was even more impossible.

The Mandalorian roared into PT-37's faceplate, then shifted sideways and grabbed one of its arms with both hands, pulling back and twisting his body. The Purge Trooper pitched and flipped over the man's shoulder, hitting the ground with enough force to send massive vibrations through its chassis. The vibrations, amazingly enough, managed to affect its internal wiring, and a design flaw in the droid's construction allowed that wiring to sever its motor control from cerebral processes. PT was paralyzed. Impossible, it repeated in its head, the only part of its body it could still move.

As the Mando reached out to his sides, lightsabers flew into his hands and ignited, the six-foot figure sprinting off toward the other battle droids, having ruled out PT-37 as a viable threat. Several flurried strings of coding flew through 37's processor as it fully understood its immobile predicament. How organic, it thought with heavy annoyance. Its artificial mind dedicated half its processes to self-repair before realizing it was futile, that half joining the other in observing the armored saber-wielder as he fought its two remaining comrades. Out of all the rebel insurgents PT's squad had been sent to eliminate, he was the only one who'd managed to destroy any of them.

Why? the droid thought. I was created to serve for the glory of the Empire, the most powerful force in the galaxy. Its optics tracked the Mando's almost inhumanly fast movements. Why then could he defeat me? Was I told wrong? Is the Empire I serve truly the strongest power if we, the symbols of its might, are so easily felled? Its various logic processors debated the matter for a few nanoseconds before deciding the matter indeterminate. More data required. Its optics powered on again as the human leapt over a strike from its last brother and countered with a few of his own. I will observe and form a consensus.

Xel collapsed to his knees in tandem with the headless body of the last Purge Trooper, a ragged breath leaving him as the rebels who'd bombarded the damn thing's exposed side drew close. His sabers dropped to the ground a moment later as he leaned heavily on his hands, breathing labored.

"You all right, sir?" Linn asked concernedly, a hand going to his shoulder as she checked him for injuries.

Xel popped his helmet and removed the buy'ce, dropping it next to his sabers as he gulped in air. "Yeah," he answered raggedly. He took a few more heavy breaths before putting the helmet back on and accessing Alen's comm. channel.

"Alen here."

"We've taken out the droids, vod. Few more casualties, one death, but it's over."

"Sorry, Xel, but it isn't. These Purge Troopers—that's what they're called—are being mass-produced, and it looks like someone finally got around to issuing new orders to the rest once they realized those six failed."

Xel's eyes widened to their max. "Please tell me that doesn't mean—"

"They're coming, brother."

"How many?" He could barely stand in his condition, much less take on an army of those things.

"I'm gonna assume Tenau's going for overkill and say all of them. And there are a lot of them operational."

Xel paled behind his helmet.

"Tell your men to fall back and do the same. I have a plan."

As Caden looked into the sky to see four, six, twelve of them flood out of the factory, he couldn't help but let his jaw drop and hope his brother knew what he was doing. "Roger that." He turned to his men and closed the channel. "Fall back!"

"How's that junction coming?"

Corporal En snarled and cursed at the wiring as ionized plasma flew all around him. "It's a lot harder than it looks!"

"My sister and Xel are about to be overrun by those things, so try harder!"

Treyvan glared at the panel as Alen deflected yet another shot that would have killed him, his lightsaber a glowing barrier between the man and certain death. "I got it!" he shouted triumphantly. "Guns offline!"

Xel was running as fast as his aching legs could take him, firing at the approaching walking tanks every so often as they made chase. When a missile crashed not four feet from his position, his limbs gave out completely, and he fell to the ground. Crawling forward in desperation, he looked over his shoulder in time to see a Purge Trooper fire another missile salvo at him. Unable to so much as roll away, Xel lifted his hand in the attack's direction and focused what was left of his strength in the Force. To the astonishment of both him and the droid, the rockets diverted into a nearby boulder, showering him with splintered rocks but otherwise doing no damage.

It didn't matter. He was crippled and deserted, and all it would take was one more rocket burst to finish him off. Evidently, it intended to.

Its right arm raised to fire again a moment before a turbolaser burst reduced it to molten slag.

The sight of the Indomitable Blood had never looked so beautiful to Xel's dark blue eyes. His ears could say the same about the feminine voice that flooded his helmet.

"Need a hand, Xel'ika?"

His eyes closed as a relieved smile came to his face. They snapped open a few seconds later as concussion missiles and proton torpedoes rained down on the enemy. The Kandosii'tal streaked overhead, then arced up into the clouds as a half-dozen of the twenty remaining Purge Troopers gave chase with their jetpacks. A burst of fire from another source vaped two of them. Xel's comlink burst with static before another female voice came through.

"Consultant Xel Caden, this is Specter Two of the Ghost. We heard you could use our help."

The Ghost swept over the rocky terrain, then swung in low and strafed the remaining Purge Troopers on the ground, taking out four more in one pass.

"Sorry we didn't get here sooner, and with a better ship. Blasted Imps have a little blockade running in the upper atmo."

"Specter Two," he laughed painfully, "I wouldn't care if you came in a Hutt skiff with a broken tailfin. Those guns are the most beautiful things I've seen all day."

Warm, motherly laughter came from the other end. "Understood, Mr. Caden. Standby for reinforcements."

A smaller jump ship detached from the Ghost and flew down, landing right next to his position as he groaned his way into a crouch. The exit hatch of the vehicle opened, and Xel's eyes widened. Just when I thought things couldn't look more beautiful. At the head of a four-man column of rebel reinforcements was a woman.

In bright, neon pink Mandalorian armor.

Xel's jaw opened wide along with his eyes when he saw two blue lightsabers flash to life. His eyes were glued to the two glowing blades as they charged the enemy, a younger, blue-black haired figure charging between two Purge Troopers and drawing their fire while the older man swept in from behind, cutting into the leg of one before taking the arm off another. Caden was so zoned in on the Jedi that he didn't notice the figure crouching at his side until a full ten seconds after the initial question.

"What?" he asked, breath catching a bit when he found himself staring into another t-visor.

"I said," a young, filtered voice repeated, "are you hurt?"

Xel blinked a few times and gulped as he briefly checked himself for injuries. Couple broken ribs, sprained ankle, few torn ligaments. "Nothing major," he decided, pushing himself to his feet before collapsing a moment later, the Mando woman's arms catching him before he planted shebs-first on the ground. "Okay, maybe I lied a little bit." The adrenaline of both his flight and rescue started to ebb, and with it his body's natural painkillers. "Oh…" he groaned. "Okay, I definitely lied. A lot." He looked up at her as she motioned to someone else, a flash of red hair in his peripheral vision indicating Linn's rapid approach. "I have to apologize," he said, voice cracking with pain. "I'm usually not that devious with complete strangers."

The girl sighed gently and popped the seal on his buy'ce before pulling it off, helping Linn take off the rest of his armor plates so they could treat him properly. As the Riilos girl got to work on his injuries, the pink-armored Mando held his hand as he gripped it tightly, the tension there allowing him to keep talking.

"So, I'm uh…I'm Xel." He hissed as Linn applied a bacta patch to skin that had torn open from sheer stress. "Xel Caden," he hissed through clenched teeth.

"I know," the Mando said softly.

"And you are?"

The girl watched Linn inject a painkiller stim into his left leg, whose attached muscles were torn way out of whack. "Sabine. Sabine Wren."

"Wren," Xel breathed out, the agony already somewhat diminishing as exhaustion started to overtake him. "Can't say I ever heard of a Clan Wren. But then…I'm in the middle of passin' out, so…" He blinked rapidly, forcing himself to stay awake. "Miss Wren…my brother's in that factory…he's a Jedi."

He knew she was staring at him. "Okay?"

"Can you…make sure he makes it?" He held her hand with both of his, staring into the black t-visor intensely.

She put her other hand over his. "I promise. Ori'haat."

Xel let out a heavy breath of relief. "Vor entye."

He passed out a moment later.

"Reinforcements have arrived!"

"Say what, Linnie?" Eran asked.

"Reinforcements! Commander Tobin came through—with Jedi!"

The team's eyes, with the exception of Alen, went wide.


"Yep. Two of 'em."

"And what about our team?"

"We…took a lot of casualties, but most of us are okay."

"And my brother?" Alen asked, voice tight.

Linn laughed. "He's all right. Currently mooning over his—oh wait, nope, he's out."

Alen's brow rose.

"Pretty badly banged up…wrestling with Purge Troopers is apparently hazardous to your health. He'll be okay though. The remaining Troopers are being routed or scrapped. Battle out here's over."

"But not in here," Alen said darkly as his expression went dark. He ran through a door, leaving behind half his team and chasing toward a familiar Force signature. The second door he ran through took him into a large, dark hangar with a single ship and single occupant. Alen's lightsaber ignited as he snarled at the figure. "Tenau."

The Mandalorian turned toward him and nodded. "Jedi. Should've known you were behind that little…disruption out there."

"It's over, Mando. Surrender now and you'll be given quarter."

He laughed coarsely. "Please. Like I'd ever give up to a Jedi. No, I'm afraid this dance has only just begun. Be seeing you, auretii."

"Like hell."

Alen charged at him, but the Mando jetpacked onto his ship, leaving behind an armed thermal detonator at his position. The Jedi leapt away as it exploded, scrambling to his feet and sprinting at the Kom'rk-class fighter, then changing his vector when Tenau opened fire with the ship's cannons. Li-am leapt up as fast as possible, but he wasn't fast enough. The Mandalorian jetted into the sky and out of atmosphere barely a minute after his exit, leaving his Jedi opponent seething in defeat.

One day, Tenau. One day.

1 hour later

Rebel encampment, Lannik

Groan. Bright lights. So not fun waking up with a concussion. Xel slowly opened his eyes, squinting until their unusual sensitivity faded somewhat. His brother was sleeping in a chair not five feet away, head braced on his hand, lips parted slightly. As his eyes drifted around his tent, he could see the rest of his team, his crew, sitting or lying down, talking, smiling. All of them were waiting for him to wake. The thought made him smile. Let's not keep them waiting.

"Am I dead?"

Alen immediately started awake, an in an instant, every eye in the room was trained on Xel, who looked somewhat shell-shocked.

"'Cause I suddenly found myself surrounded by a bunch of butt-ugly shabuire."

The room burst into laughter as Alen grinned. "Yeah, well, these 'ugly shabuire' are the reason you're still breathing."

Xel mock cringed. "I can't believe I'm indebted to such…such…" He dropped the act and grinned. "Thank you. All of you." He sat up with some difficulty and help from Alen. "I never thought I'd come to trust anyone as quickly as I have with you." He nodded to the four rebels. "I'm honored. Truly."

"I can guarantee," Eran said, "we feel the same way."

Xel's brows furrowed. "Anyone find out about that Ghost crew?"

Alen smiled. "Yep."

"Someone's happy," Caden teased.

"Well, I've finally got someone to talk shop with. And by 'shop,' I mean the Force."

"Right," Xel chuckled. "And it looks like I've finally got someone to speak Mando'a with." He leaned his head back against his clasped hands and sighed as his eyes closed. "It's been so long."

"Uh huh."

Xel didn't like his tone, and the stupid grin on his face just made his fears worse. "What?" he asked, annoyed.

Alen leaned closer and whispered conspiratorially as he poked his brother in the uninjured arm. "You and her…"

"Ugh!" Xel grimaced and shook him off. "Seriously, vod, is that all you ever think about? I mean really, it's like you're trying to turn me domestic."

"Domestic Mandalorian." Alen looked off to the side, testing the thought as his grin progressively widened. "Yeah, not seein' it."

Xel rolled his eyes and slugged Alen good-naturedly, smiling as he kept still, the pain meds having worn off somewhat. He couldn't help but catch the feeling of disappointment coming from someone in the room and locked eyes with her a moment later. Xel blinked a few times before she realized they were staring at each other and looked away with a cough. Linn gently excused herself from the tent.

"How's the operation going?" Xel asked.

"Don't you worry about it," Eran insisted. "Stay here and rest. The Imps had no idea just how much intel we had on their operations here. I give it two days before we mop up and ship out." He approached and laid a hand on Xel's shoulder. "Rest easy, boss. We got it from here."

Though he desperately wanted to argue, Xel nodded slowly as another wave of exhaustion overtook him, head laying back and falling against his pillow as his eyes closed.

The boy rested in the knowledge that he was safe, and he was not alone.

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